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Kandahar Faces Daily Misery

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Issue: 45 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: South Asia Afghanistan, Kandahar Topics: taliban, civil war

April 30, 2007

Kandahar Faces Daily Misery

"You did not bring us freedom," say residents of Afghanistan's southern province

by Chris Sands

"Forget that a road has been built," Haji Abdul Rahman (right), a tribal elder, said. "If a road has been built and you are killed, what good is it?" ©Copyright 2007 Chris Sands. No reproduction without permission. Photo: Chris Sands

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN --Anyone who values their life tries to avoid going out after dark in Kandahar. This place is a death trap at the best of times and the odds of survival plummet with the sun.

Security is almost non-existent here. More than five years after they were promised peace, prosperity and liberty, many now want the Taliban to come back.

“The Americans say they are democratic, modern and know everything, but they fuck us in so many different ways,” Faiz Mohammed Karigar, a local resident said. “How can we forgive them? How can we forgive the Americans?

“If I sit at a table with an American and he says he has brought us freedom, I will tell him he has fucked us. 'You did not bring us freedom.'”

As the world starts to acknowledge the full horror of the present state of Iraq, Afghanistan slips towards the same state. With each passing week the list of the dead grows in a war Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists is being won.

“When the Taliban were here I escaped to the border of Iran, but I was never worried about my family,” Karigar told me. “Every single minute of the last three years I have been very worried. Maybe tonight the Americans will come to my house, touch my wife, touch my children and arrest me.

“I have already decided to stand against them. I will stand against them even when I see them on the road. I will fight them with my tongue, my hands, with guns – I will fight them in any way I can.”

The southern province of Kandahar is where the Taliban movement was born and it is here that it has come back to life, resuscitated by the widespread anger Afghans feel towards the foreign troops in their midst.

When Mullah Mohammed Omar was in power people could walk the streets safely as long as they complied with a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Now a simple outing to the market is a risk.

“That’s right, [President Hamid] Karzai is always shouting about democracy and saying everything is fine, but it’s just words,” Maria Farah, mother of five, said. “If you meet women their faces are very sad. I don’t just mean two or three women; all our faces are very sad. And if you go to houses you will see the same faces on husbands as well because they cannot get jobs, they worry about security and they worry about their children.

“I can only talk about Kandahar city. I think life under the Taliban was very good. If we did not have a full stomach we could at least get some food and go to sleep. If we went out somewhere there were no problems,” she continued.

“How about now? If we go out we don’t know if we will arrive home or not. If there is an explosion and the Americans are passing they will just open fire on everyone. The security problems are too much here. If someone is driving on the highway they will be stopped and beheaded. If women leave the house when it is getting dark people look at them with a hatred in their eyes.”

The 33-year-old finished our conversation with a simple request.

“Ask [George W.] Bush to come here once and meet with women who want to tear his skin off,” she said.

Soon after the Taliban first surfaced in Kandahar during the mid 1990s they brought peace to an area previously ruled by rival warlords.

Today this is one of the most dangerous places in the country, with political and criminal violence spreading fear among the population. There are approximately 2,500 Canadian troops based here and casualties on all sides are mounting, with suicide attacks, firefights and roadside bombings increasingly common in the southern province.

But whatever the real cause of the bloodshed, Afghans almost always blame the foreign soldiers and local security forces. Many of them simply regard this as a US occupation, often seeing little or no difference between the various countries that make up the NATO-led mission.

“Forget that a road has been built,” Haji Abdul Rahman, a tribal elder, said. “If a road has been built and you are killed, what good is it?

“Everyone is a robber. I guarantee if you sit in my car and we go for a drive no Taliban will take you away. But I cannot guarantee you [the same] about the police. If they stop you they will steal your money and your camera.”

His friend, Abdul Hamid, shared similar concerns. All of his six sons are unemployed and he believes jihad is he only way forward for Afghanistan.

“It’s much, much worse than when the Russians were here,” the 71-year-old said. “At that time maybe we were scared a rocket would land on our house, but we were not scared of them coming into our house.

“One of my sons wanted to join the military. I was not happy about that. I told him this country is fucked up, everyone is a robber and you have to make a stand and fight for the truth.”

Panjwayi is a Taliban stronghold in the west of Kandahar province. Last May US-led forces conducted an air strike on alleged insurgents in the district.

American officials claimed as many as 80 militants might have been killed, but villagers at the scene said a number of the casualties were civilians.

Mawlawi Abdul Hadid told me 18 members of his family died in the raid. He said 30 innocent people were killed in all, the youngest of them a two-year-old girl.

“In the beginning you had only one enemy. Then you made two, then three and now I also stand against you,” he declared. “You made me your enemy as well and I will stand against you.

“The Taliban are the sons of this country: my son is a Talib and your son is a Talib,” the 45-year-old added, gesturing towards another man in the room.

“The Taliban are fighting for our rights, they are fighting for humanity and they are fighting for the truth. Day by day the Americans are losing support, but lots of people support the Taliban.”

Asked how long it would take to defeat the foreign soldiers, Hadid gave the kind of response increasingly heard across Afghanistan.

“In Islam we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” he said. “But one thing we do know is that God brought them here and God will take them away.”

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Absolutes suggest hyperbole

Any truth in this article is overshadowed by two things: 1) the language (e.g., "death trap", "grim hell", not to mention all the profanity that I'd just as soon they'd filtered at the source), and 2) the unqualified absolutes (e.g., "most dangerous place in the country", a number of references to what "many" feel, when it seems like maybe a dozen were interviewed, as it's written, anyway).

If the writer had been upfront about how many people he'd talked to, and included some responses to some of the outlandish claims (e.g., "*all* our faces are sad") from Afghan and Canadian officials, it would've served him well.

I'm inclined to agree that the counter-insurgency operations aren't the way to go, but this article does nothing to further that position. Sands is making it easy to dismiss him.

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